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JetBlue goes hostile to buy Spirit Airlines after rejection

By Rajesh Kumar Singh and David Shepardson

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - JetBlue Airways Corp is not taking no for an answer in its quest to buy rival Spirit Airlines.

On Monday, the New York-based carrier launched a hostile all-cash takeover bid for Spirit Airlines, two weeks after the low-cost carrier rejected an offer from the larger rival.

JetBlue, which in early April offered $33 per share, is locked in a takeover battle for Spirit with Frontier Group Holdings and has argued a deal will help better compete with the "Big Four" U.S. airlines that control nearly 80% of the passenger market.

In a letter to Spirit shareholders on Monday, JetBlue offered $30 per share and said it was ready to "negotiate in good faith a consensual transaction at $33, subject to receiving necessary diligence."

Spirit rejected the earlier offer, saying it had a low likelihood of winning approval from regulators.

JetBlue disclosed Monday that acquiring Spirit "has been a strategic objective of JetBlue for many years," according to an April 29 letter it sent Spirit.

JetBlue said on Monday it had filed a "Vote No" proxy statement urging Spirit shareholders to vote against the planned merger with Frontier, which rose 4% in early trading. The value of Frontier's cash and stock for each share of the discount carrier on Monday was recently at $19.48 a share.

Shares of Spirit rose 8% to $18.32 in early trading. JetBlue shares were down 3.4% to $9.72%

JetBlue said "Spirit’s Board is prioritizing its own self-interest and personal relationships with Frontier over its shareholders’ interests."

It added "Ask yourself a simple question: why won’t the Spirit Board engage with us constructively? The interests of Bill Franke’s Indigo Partners and the long-standing relationships between the two companies is the obvious answer."

Frontier, Spirit and Franke did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Spirit will hold a shareholder meeting on June 10 to vote on its proposed merger with Frontier.

JetBlue said Monday that on March 29 its Chief Executive Robin Hayes first called Spirit Chief Executive Ted Christie to inform him of the airline's interest in buying Spirit.

JetBlue, the sixth-largest U.S. passenger carrier, would operate Spirit under the JetBlue brand and does not think any divestitures are needed, but promised a $200 million reverse break-up fee, or $1.80 per Spirit share, and plans to divest Spirit's holdings in New York and Boston to address any overlap.

Spirit in April had sought a significantly higher reverse break-up fee, JetBlue said.

(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago, Tanvi Mehta in Bengaluru and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, David Evans and Lisa Shumaker)

This article originally appeared on Reuters

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